Wed, Nov. 13

Top 5 family camping and fishing spots in Arizona

Woods Canyon Lake near Payson is an ideal to cool off from the summer heat and catch fish. AZG&F courtesy photo

Woods Canyon Lake near Payson is an ideal to cool off from the summer heat and catch fish. AZG&F courtesy photo

Sun sweats, triple-digit fidgets, dog days — they seem to make most outdoors lovers crave cool times in the high country.

Some of the best family camping and fishing options include waters with stocked or self-sustaining fish, quality camping amenities, and striking scenery. Those factors were used by AZGFD fishing report editors and regional staff to determine this list. Here is this year’s top-5 list of family camping and fishing spots.


Doug Avakian caught this 3-pound rainbow trout from Ashurst Lake southeast of Flagstaff in June from a boat on a Kastmaster.

5. Ashurst Lake: At 7,113 feet in elevation, this 229-acre lake southeast of Flagstaff has good shoreline access, wide-open water for boat anglers, and has had great summer fishing. Anglers have been catching trout on the lake using PowerBait and lures. There is a boat ramp and 50 single-unit campsites (25 at each of two campgrounds on both sides of the lake) with tables, fire rings, cooking grills, plus drinking water and vault toilets. A seasonal store typically operates out of a trailer from late spring to early September.

Directions: Take Forest Highway 3 (Lake Mary Road) and turn east on Forest Road 82. The lake will be 4 miles away.

4. Bear Canyon Lake: Bear Canyon has good water quality (due to its max depth of 50 feet), appears to be near full, and as of mid-July had no fire restrictions. Plus,  we added an additional 3,000 fish to the already scheduled 2,000 catchable rainbow trout that were stocked. There’s no public boat launch, so the only option at this walk-in lake is  to bring “carryable” boats. There is only dispersed camping in the nearby forest, but you don’t have to pay fees in order to camp.

Directions: See Google driving directions.


Fools Hollow Lake (AZG&F photo)

3. Fool Hollow Lake: Don’t be fooled: this is an excellent fishery for getting the family into the outdoors and onto sunfish and mudbugs (crayfish). Fool Hollow Lake State Park has excellent family-fishing amenities such as clean and spacious campgrounds, picnic areas and fishing piers.

The lake nearly reached full pool and both boat ramps are in good condition. The lake has self-sustaining populations of largemouth and smallmouth bass, sunfish, walleye, carp, catfish, black crappie and black bullhead that are easy for kids to catch (try a simple worm on the bottom). Fishing also is good for 12-inch stocked rainbow trout — try fishing at least 10 feet deep.

Directions: Fool Hollow Lake Recreation Area is located in east-central Arizona, two miles north of US 60 off Highway 260 in Show Low.


VVN/Nancy James

2. Big Lake: Cutthroats have been biting on and off, and there are plenty of rainbow trout along with lots of crayfish for kids if the trout are not biting. The best part may be the excellent and plentiful campground amenities. There are two subspecies of cutthroat at Big Lake: Snake River finespot cutthroat, which are more commonly caught in Railroad Cove and prefer dry flies or nymphs, especially in the mornings and evenings, and Bonneville cutthroat, which are behaving more like rainbows and cruising along the bottom or several feet off bottom.

Trolling should be effective for both rainbows and Bonnevilles. Trolling from a boat is the most productive method during the summer.  If shore fishing, get out early or late in the day, and take cover in your vehicle or camp during monsoon/lightning storms.

Directions: Big Lake is accessed via state routes 260 and 273 (Forest Road 113).

1. Woods Canyon Lake: Along with nearby Willow Springs Lake, Woods is scheduled to be loaded with rainbow trout weekly. For families that don’t enjoy camping in a tent or camper during the summer monsoon storms, the closest lodging is at Forest Lakes Lodge, just 11 1/2 miles away on Highway 260. The best bet for anglers with boats or kayaks (the Woods Canyon Lake Store has boat and canoe/kayak rentals and necessary camping amenities) is to hit the water just before sunrise and troll, or slowly work, small in-line spinners 15 feet deep. Any deeper, and you’re typically fishing below the thermocline where during the summer there is no oxygen. Anglers could have no problems getting a six trout daily bag limit or hooking into a rod-rattling tiger trout.

Directions: From Phoenix, take Highway 87 (Beeline Highway) northeast to Payson and then Highway 260 east to Forest Road 300 (Rim Road). Then turn north onto paved Forest Road 105 and proceed about a mile to the lake. The lake is about 30 miles east of Payson. See Google driving directions.

Honorable mentions: Rose Canyon Lake (Tucson region), Show Low Lake and Creek, Kaibab Lake (Williams), Black River, Knoll Lake, Dogtown Reservoir.

-Nick Walter, Arizona Game and Fish Department

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